?“I’m from a little place called England, we used to run the world before you lot.” – Ricky Gervais
Much fuss has been made over how the British mine comedy from the uncomfortable moments that pepper everyday life. There has been equal attention paid to how the stiff-upper-lippedness commonplace amongst the English after World War II affected their comedic sensibilities. Yet one facet of British comedy that never seems to get enough attention is the role that music plays in some of the country’s funniest TV exports. Just as John, Paul, George and Ringo changed music; Monty Python — frequently dubbed “The Beatles of comedy” — forever altered their countrymen’s approach to getting laughs by frequently mixing their trademark absurdity with music. This is a trait that many subsequent Britcoms have thankfully followed. Obviously, American shows have gotten plenty of laughs from featuring goofy songs too. But somehow it seems more inspired when the Brits do it (you know how calling an umbrella a “parasol” seems classier? Same basic premise). So the time has come to analyze which songs from British comedy shows are the funniest, catchiest and overall best.
A quick word: In the name of fairness and because so many Britcoms rely heavily on music, only one song per series was allowed (otherwise there’s a good chance this list would have been 75% Python songs). Now, let’s see if your favorites made the cut…
11) “The A-Theme Theme (Remix),” Spaced
Admittedly this is a bit of a cheat since there’s nothing inherently funny about The A-Team‘s theme song. With Topless Robot being the home for all things nerdy, it would be tragic not to mention this stellar dance version of the tune from the climax of the “Epiphanies” episode of Spaced. Remixed by producer Guy Pratt, the track gave us the chance to revel in the fun as Simon Pegg and Nick Frost attended the world’s geekiest rave.
10) “Love Games,” The Mighty Boosh
The toughest part of writing lists like this one is just knowing that somebody’s favorite song is going to be left off. This is doubly true in the case of a show as music packed as The Mighty Boosh. So while you slag me off for not putting the “Tundra” rap on here in the comments, enjoy Old Gregg’s disco-flavored tribute to love that I’m pretty sure Scissor Sisters based their entire career on.
9) “One Track Lover,” Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
First gaining attention through his supporting work on The Mighty Boosh, Matt Berry is the world’s most talented and charismatic man. At the very least, he can belt out a tune. He ably demonstrated his musical chops in the final episode of the horror spoof Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with this dead-on replica of 1980s power ballads in which he was assisted by special guest rapper Richard Ayoade (who played Dean Learner/Thornton Reed on the series). The sight of Berry in his briefs is just a little something extra for all you ladies out there.
8) “Sexual Christmas Night,” The Peter Serafinowicz Show
Peter Serafinowicz is voicing Paul McCartney in Robert Zemeckis upcoming CGI remake of Yellow Submarine. That just feels so perfect. As this video — a Christmas song from an alternate universe in which Macca is a complete perv — demonstrates, he could have done vocal chores for Ringo in the flick too.
7) “Outrageous,” Peep Show
In the Channel 4 series Peep Show, Robert Webb portrays Jeremy, a perennially unemployed slacker who makes life hell for his stuffy roommate/fellow asshole Mark (David Mitchell). The pilot episode gave is a glimpse at Jeremy’s musical stylings, as glimpsed above. How he thinks he’s going to become a star by creating warmed-over Utah Saints songs is anyone’s guess. Being a shitty musician is least of Jez’s flaws, especially given how he once killed then ate a dog belonging to a potential girlfriend. Outrageous indeed.
6) “Snuff Box Title Theme,” Snuff Box
Unlike the other entries on this list, this theme tune for the BBC’s underappreciated mindfuck Snuff Box actually played a crucial role in the series. Turning up at a pivotal point in each of the series’ six episodes, the theme underwent several rearrangements — including a Mamas and Papas-styled version by writer/vocalist Matt Berry and co-star Rich Fulcher and a disco showstopper rendition that rivals The State’s “Porcupine Racetrack” song for the title of most insane musical moment ever featured in a sketch comedy series. Part of the fun of watching Snuff Box for the first time is wondering how and when the theme tune would turn up in a particular episode. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a brilliant piece of pop music either.
5) “Tongue Tied,” Red Dwarf
In the second season finale of Red Dwarf, it was revealed that the Cat dreams not of fish but of becoming a musical theater performer. This along with his fondness for fashion has left many Dwarfers pondering the character’s sexuality over the years (as well as Danny John-Jules himself, who remarked last year that the Cat was the “John Inman of Red Dwarf,” referring to the flamboyant star of Are You Being Served?). Such discussions seem silly in our more enlightened world, so let’s just focus on how awesome this song is. Spurred by its popularity, John-Jules recorded a full-length version of “Tongue Tied” and released it along with a painfully unfunny video that I mercifully haven’t embedded above. It’s also worth mentioning that John-Jules got into legal trouble last year for allegedly threatening garbage men with a samurai sword, which is an amazing, although completely un-Cat-like, thing for him to do.
4) “Little Mouse,” Look Around You
During the first season of Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper’s spoof of 1970s educational TV, Look Around You, each episode featured a “module” focusing on a different topic. The music installment illustrated how the perfect pop song could be constructed through science and, low and behold, “Little Mouse” was born. Wings, eat your heart out.
3) “Freelove Freeway,” The Office
We’re supposed to be laughing at David Brent and not with him here, but you’ve got to admit this isn’t a half-bad song. In case you didn’t know by now, a young Ricky Gervais was one half of the 1980s New Romantic pop group Seona Dancing. This is all a big set up for me to include the following video for the group’s “Bitter Heart” single. It’s funnier and shorter than The Invention of Lying. <You’re welcome.
2) “Yakety Sax,” The Benny Hill Show <
Most comedy snobs consider The Benny Hill Show too gauche for their highbrow tastes. Fuck ’em. If a perverted old man chasing broads around in weird time-lapse videos while this song plays isn’t funny, nothing is. Besides, the Internet says that “Yakety Sax” makes everything hilarious. Do you have the balls to take on the Internet? Didn’t think so.
1) “The Lumberjack Song,” Monty Python’s Flying Circus
Before “Lola” and “Sweet Transvestite” made songs about cross-dressers hip, the Pythons were on the case with their anthem about a tortured lumberjack who yearned to wear suspenders, high heels and a bra. It’s been forty years since Monty Python’s Flying Circus debuted and the show still feels fresh and exciting — “The Lumberjack Song” (and other musical moments from the show) can take at least some of the credit for this. It’s not hyperbole to say that most of the shows on this list wouldn’t exist without Python revealing the endless possibilities of comedy to them. This song is so entrenched in pop culture, everyone knows it…even the clueless wonders whose only other exposure to the troupe is Spamalot. There simply isn’t any other reasonable choice for what song should top the list. It’s not even close.
Chris Cummins is a pop culture writer and Archie comics historian who has contributed to The Robot's Voice, Den of Geek US, Philebrity, Geekadelphia, Uproxx, and Unicorn Booty. He is the co-producer and co-host of Nerd Nite Philadelphia, and is regularly involved in producing and hosting New York Super Week events. In 2014, Chris began Sci-Fi Explosion, a mix of live performance, trivia and funny clips celebrating the weirdest in science fiction that regularly travels around the United States. He wrote the introductions to the compilations Archie's Favorite Comics From The Vault and (with Paul Castiglia) Archie's Favorite High School Stories. You can find Chris on Twitter at @bionicbigfoot and @scifiexplosion.